Live updates: U.S. House approves Russia oil import ban bill | Business, Finance & Technology

Dayana Jones

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved legislation that would ban Russian oil imports to the United States, an effort to put into law the restrictions announced by President Joe Biden in response to the escalating war in Ukraine.

Going further than Biden’s import ban on Russian oil, the bill making its way through Congress would also encourage a review of Russia’s status in the World Trade Organization and signal U.S. support for sanctions on Russian officials over human rights violations, as the U.S. works to economically isolate the regime.

Lawmakers in both parties have been eager to act, willing to risk higher gas prices at home in order to support Ukraine with a show of U.S. bipartisanship. The legislation was approved Wednesday, 414-17, and now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who helped draft the bill, acknowledged it may cost more to fill up tanks at home to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tanks abroad.

“It is one way to demonstrate our solidarity,” Doggett said during the debate.

TOKYO — Japanese electronics and entertainment giant Sony is suspending all shipments of its PlayStation video game consoles as well as game software to Russia because of the war in Ukraine.

Launch of “Gran Turismo 7,” a popular racing car game, is being suspended, and the PlayStation store in Russia will close, Sony Interactive Entertainment said in a statement Thursday.

The company “joins the global community in calling for peace in Ukraine,” it said.

Sony, which has movies and music businesses, earlier said it’s halted theatrical releases of its movies in Russia. Sony Group Corp. has also announced $2 million in humanitarian aid to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the international aid group Save the Children to help war victims.

TOKYO — Japanese machinery and technology company Hitachi Group is suspending exports to Russia and has temporarily stopped manufacturing there.

Hitachi said Thursday products and services related to electric power equipment “indispensable to the daily lives of people” will continue. Operations in Ukraine have resumed by moving employees and families to safer areas, it said.

“Hitachi Group considers the safety and health of all employees and their families as its top priority. In Ukraine, the company is engaged in various activities to realize this goal and hopes that peace will return as soon as possible,” it said.

IRPIN, Ukraine — Hundreds of Ukrainians living in towns occupied by Russian troops on the outskirts of Kyiv fled Wednesday.

Streams of cars — some fixed with white flags — filed down the road, joined by lines of yellow buses marked with red crosses.

The Interior Ministry said about 700 people were evacuated from Vorzel and Irpin. People from three other Kyiv suburbs were unable to leave. Some who managed to get out said they hadn’t eaten in days.

“I forgot when I ate last,” said an Irpin resident who gave only her first name, Olena. “I’m so scared. I need to keep walking.”

Iuliia Bushinska, a Vorzel resident, said: “Occupiers came to our house and they were ready to shoot us.”

“They took away our house, our car, they took away our documents. So we need to start our life from the beginning. We survived things that I never experienced in my life,” Bushinska said.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government publicly warned that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, after Russia, without evidence, accused Ukraine of having chemical weapons labs.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Russia’s claim “preposterous” and said it could be part of an attempt by Russia to lay the groundwork for using such weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine itself.

“This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine,” said Psaki.

“Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.”

Russia has used chemical weapons before in carrying out assassination attempts against Putin enemies like Alexey Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal. It also supports the Assad government in Syria which has used chemical weapons against its people in a decade-long civil war.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the West to impose even tougher sanctions on Russia after the airstrike on the maternity hospital in Mariupol.

“A genocide of Ukrainians is taking place,” Zelenskyy said Wednesday in his daily late evening video address to the nation. Wearing his now traditional wartime army green, he said the West should strengthen the sanctions so Russia “no longer has any possibility to continue this genocide.”

He said 17 people were injured in the attack, including pregnant women.

Mariupol has been blockaded by Russian troops for nine days. City officials said Wednesday that about 1,200 residents have been killed.

Zelenskyy again called on Western leaders to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, something NATO members have refused to do for fear of provoking a wider war with Russia. Short of that, Zelenskyy called for the delivery of more fighter jets to Ukraine, a proposal the Pentagon rejected on Wednesday.

Zelenskyy said about 35,000 civilians have used humanitarian corridors to flee to western Ukraine to escape the fighting.

NEW YORK — Wall Street titan Citigroup said it would wind down its Russian banking business, with the ultimate goal of finding a seller. But the bank also acknowledged that selling the business may be difficult due to the Russian economy “being disconnected from the global financial system.”

Citigroup had a robust presence in Russia for several years, operating branches in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities. The company also did investment banking and business banking in the region.

Until the business is sold, Citi said it is “operating the business on a more limited basis” and is helping its U.S. and other corporate clients unwind or suspend their businesses in Russia.

Weeks before Russia invaded, Citi had announced it was leaving several Asian markets including Russia as part of a company-wide strategic review of its major markets. Citi is probably the most global of the Wall Street banks, operating consumer banking franchises in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon slammed the door Wednesday on any plans to provide MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, even through a second country, calling it a “high-risk” venture that would not significantly change the Ukrainian Air Force’s effectiveness.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Polish counterpart on Wednesday and told him the U.S. assessment. He said the U.S. is pursuing other options that would provide more critical military needs to Ukraine such as air defense and anti-armor weapons systems.

Poland had said it was prepared to hand over MiG-29 planes to NATO that could then be delivered to Ukraine, but Kirby said U.S. intelligence concluded that it could trigger a “significant” Russian reaction.

LVIV, Ukraine — Russian aircraft bombed Zhytomyr on Wednesday evening, while artillery fire continued pounding the suburbs of Kyiv and Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city.

In Zhytomyr, a city of 260,000 to the west of Kyiv, bombs fell on two hospitals, one of them a children’s hospital, Mayor Serhii Sukhomlyn said on Facebook. He said the number of casualties was still being determined.

“Oh, this is a hot night,” he said in a video address to city residents. “Russia understands that it is losing strategically, but we have to hold out.”

Russian artillery shelled Kharkiv, destroying a police headquarters, killing at least four people and wounding 15, prosecutors office representative Serhii Bolvinov said on Facebook. He said since the invasion began nearly two weeks ago, 282 city residents have been killed, including six children.

After darkness fell, Russian artillery again began shelling Kyiv suburbs.

“Russian troops are methodically turning our life into a hell. People day and night have to sit underground without food, water or electricity,” the head of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said on Ukrainian television.

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations has received official notification from Ukraine that it intends to withdraw about 250 troops serving in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo as well as military equipment, including some aircraft.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed the withdrawal on Wednesday stressing that every country has a right to withdraw military forces contributed to peacekeeping operations. He acknowledged “the tremendous role Ukraine has played, especially on issues of transport and helicopters.”

Dujarric said it is up to the Ukrainian government to explain why it asked to pull out the troops and the U.N. will be contacting other countries to replace the troops and equipment in the Congo mission known as MONUSCO which has about 17,800 personnel.

The U.N. spokesman said Ukrainians remain present in smaller numbers in other U.N. peacekeeping missions — 13 in South Sudan, 12 in Mali, five in Cyprus, four in Abyei and three in the U.N. political mission in Kosovo.

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that President Volodymr Zelenskyy has told her that it will take “everybody’s help” in rebuilding Ukraine after the war with Russia.

Pelosi said she had a more than 45 minute call Wednesday with Zelenskyy. She said the Ukrainian president again asked for U.S. help in sending warplanes, anti-aircraft missiles and tanks to fight the Russian invasion.

But Pelosi said Zelenskyy also told her: “We’re going to need everybody’s help in rebuilding Ukraine as soon as we end this war.”

Pelosi said she hopes the U.S. can help facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era MiG fighter planes that Ukraine has requested from neighboring NATO allies. But she noted there’s a school of thought that suggests anti-aircraft missiles could also help Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

The Pentagon has rejected the idea of sending any fighter jets to Ukraine.

UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s “illegal, unprovoked” and “cruel” war against Ukraine is underscoring the many different ways in which peace, security and a stable climate are linked, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday.

Kerry told an informal U.N. Security Council meeting on Climate Finance for Sustaining Peace that “the crisis in Ukraine really does underscore the risks that we face in the current volatile and uncertain energy markets.”

The U.S. special presidential envoy for climate said in a virtual speech that “Russia has attacked a nuclear facility in Ukraine, dangerous in and of itself, risky.”

There was increasing concern Wednesday over the safety of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, which Russian troops seized early in the invasion and which lost power and had to revert to backup generators. And there is also concern about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, which Russia seized last week.

The United States is responding by banning the import of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal, “and many other nations are now rethinking their reliance on Russian energy sources,” Kerry said. The “instability, conflict, death destruction” in Ukraine is happening in the context of “a global existential crisis” of global warming that scientists have warned about for decades, he said.

“We are actually living through the consequences of that crisis,” Kerry said.

WASHINGTON — The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday it will urge OPEC to consider boosting oil output.

The announcement followed a U.S. ban on imports of Russian oil, the latest in a series of sanctions designed to punish Russia for the war in Ukraine. Oil prices have risen sharply since Russia — the world’s third-largest oil producer — invaded Ukraine late last month.

“We favor production increases and will be encouraging OPEC to consider higher production levels,” UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, said in a statement posted on his embassy’s website. He said his country believes that stability in energy markets is critical to the global economy.

The UAE is a longtime member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which last week, along with its oil-producing allies including Russia, said it was sticking to its plan to gradually increase oil production rather that opening the spigots further.

The UAE was the world’s seventh-largest oil producing nation in 2020, according to U.S. Department of Energy figures published in December of last year.

Oil prices surged Tuesday after President Joe Biden announced the U.S. ban on Russian oil. But the possibility of increased OPEC output helped send prices tumbling Wednesday. A barrel of U.S. crude oil dropped 11% to $110.12.

BERLIN — The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said he will travel to Antalya in Turkey on Thursday at the invitation of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as concerns rise over the security of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors.

Cavusoglu will host a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in Antalya as the two-week-long war in Ukraine claims more victims. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi tweeted Wednesday evening that he will attend meetings and hopes “to make progress on the urgent issue of ensuring the safety and security of #Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. We need to act now!”

Concerns rose Wednesday over the safety of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, which Russian troops seized early in the invasion and which lost power and had to revert to backup generators. The state communications agency said the power outage could put systems for cooling nuclear material at risk. The site has been under control of Russian troops since last week.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulator said remote data transmission from monitoring systems at Chernobyl has been lost.

The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog said it saw no critical impact on safety at Chernobyl because there could be “effective heat removal without need for electrical supply” from spent nuclear fuel at the site.

SEATTLE — Amazon said it will suspend shipments of products sold on its website to customers based in Russia and Belarus.

The e-commerce giant said late Tuesday in a blog update on its website that it will also suspend Prime Video access for customers based in Russia and will stop taking orders for New World, the only video game the company says it sells directly in the Russia. The retailer added new Russia and Belarus-based third-party sellers won’t be able to sell on its site.

The retailer had said earlier in the day that its cloud computing network, Amazon Web Services, will also stop allowing new sign-ups in Russia and Belarus. Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov had called on the company to stop providing AWS in Russia, suggesting in a letter sent to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos that not doing so could be supporting “bloodshed and disinformation that can be leveraged through digital infrastructures.”

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he discussed humanitarian corridors and other issues with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.

Zelenskyy tweeted that they agreed on “the need to ensure effective humanitarian corridors for civilians” during the call.

The Ukrainian president noted that he again raised the issue of EU membership for Ukraine and expressed his gratitude for another EU sanctions package against Russia.

WASHINGTON — U.S. gasoline prices hit another record on Wednesday, with the national average rising to $4.25 a gallon, an overnight increase of eight cents, according to the AAA auto club.

Motorists in California continue to pay the highest prices, with the statewide average at $5.57 a gallon. Prices topped $4.50 in Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii.

Gasoline prices have been rising for nearly two years, following the trend in oil prices. Production fell at the outset of the pandemic, and producers have not pumped enough oil since then to meet rising demand.

The national average for gas has spiked 60 cents in just the past week, which analysts say is almost entirely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led President Joe Biden to announce Tuesday that the U.S. will ban the import of Russian oil.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Wednesday that two U.S. Army Patriot air defense batteries have been shifted from Germany to Poland as a precautionary defensive move.

It said the decision was made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in consultation with the Polish government, which asked for the Patriots.

TIRANA, Albania — The U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, or SOCEUR, opened its forward-based headquarters in Albania on Wednesday, aiming at enhancing regional stability, its head Maj. Gen. David Tabor said.

A 12- to 15-member Task Force Balkans group will be based in Tirana to coordinate joint and combined exchange training and civil military support element engagements, Tabor said. Tabor said Albania’s central location in the Balkans was behind the decision to open the command there, he said.

It will be the first-ever U.S. permanent military presence in Albania, said U.S. Ambassador in Tirana Yuri Kim.

Albanian senior officials said that opening such a U.S. military office is more important now.

The opening of the command in Tirana “came at the proper moment, at the culmination of the insecurity due to the gloomy situation in the continent after Russian aggression,” said Defense Minister Niko Peleshi.

PRAGUE — The Czech government has agreed to give refugees from Ukraine free access to the labor market without any work permit.

Labor and Social Affairs Minister Marian Jurecka said Wednesday that the refugees will be in a position “of any other citizen” if they want to get a job.

The refugees will only need to get a visa for their stay in the Czech Republic to work. Assistance centers in all regions of the Czech Republic are working around the clock to provide all necessary documents and other initial help, including housing, to the refugees.

It’s estimated some 150,000 people have arrived in the country that doesn’t border Ukraine invaded by the Russian troops.

Jurecka said there are some 350,000 jobs currently available in the Czech Republic.

The government also approved a plan to give all the refugees a financial contribution of $215 on arrival. They would be able to receive it monthly six times if needed.

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus said the first 165-ton batch of humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine has been shipped to Poland via the Greek port city of Thesaloniki.

The foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the shipment will reach a European Union logistics hub set up in conjunction with Polish authorities.

The aid — collected mainly from individual donations — includes 88 tons of foodstuffs, sleeping bags, tents blankets and portable toilets, 5,000 pairs of shoes, bottled water, an electricity generator, personal hygiene kits and 14 tons of medical supplies.

The aid is a “tangible demonstration of the solidarity of Cyprus to the Ukrainian people,” the ministry said. Freight costs were covered by the ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Ukrainian “nationalists” for hampering the evacuation of civilians from besieged Ukrainian cities.

The Kremlin said that Putin discussed the situation in Ukraine in Wednesday’s phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with a “special emphasis given to the humanitarian aspects.” It said that Putin told Scholz about Russian “efforts to organize humanitarian corridors for civilians to exit areas of fighting and attempts by militants from nationalist units to hamper safe evacuation of people.”

Ukrainian officials said that the continuous Russian shelling has derailed efforts to evacuate civilians from areas affected by fighting.

LONDON — British American Tobacco said it has suspended all planned capital investment in Russia but continues to operate there, even as many other Western brands announce they’re halting all business in the country because of the Ukraine invasion.

The company, one of the so-called Big Four tobacco producers, said Wednesday that it has a “duty of care” to all its 2,500 employees in Russia. BAT said it’s focusing on its locally produced tobacco products in Russia, where it has substantial manufacturing and has been operating since 1991.

“Furthermore, we are scaling our business activities appropriate to the current situation, including rationalising our marketing activities,” the company said, adding it’s complying with all international sanctions related to the conflict.

The company said it is “deeply concerned about the conflict in Ukraine,” where it employs 1,000 people and has suspended all business and manufacturing.

In contrast, another major tobacco producer, Imperial Brands, said earlier Wednesday it would halt all operations in Russia, including production at its factory in Volgograd and ceasing all sales and marketing activity.

Separately, S&P Global Ratings said it has suspended commercial operations in Russia. The credit rating agency said it would maintain analytical coverage from outside Russia.

LYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say a Russian strike has hit a children’s hospital and maternity facility in the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol.

A statement on the city council’s social media account on Wednesday said the hospital suffered “colossal” damage.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that there were “people, children under the wreckage.” He called the strike an “atrocity.”

The deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said authorities are trying to establish the number of people who may have been killed or wounded.

GENEVA — The international Red Cross says civilians caught up in places affected by fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces should have “broader relocation alternatives” for evacuation – including to other parts of Ukraine – beyond the Russian government’s offer to take them into Russian territory.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which in particular is trying to arrange evacuations of civilians from the hard-hit port city of Mariupol, made the comments Wednesday after Russia offered in recent days to allow safe-passage corridors for Ukrainian civilians across the Russian border. Ukrainian authorities have rejected that idea.

ICRC has said authorities on both sides need to agree on any evacuation plan, and evacuations should be voluntary for the civilians concerned.

Some civilians might refuse evacuation “if the only escape route available to them implies resettling in the Russian Federation or the Republic of Belarus,” said ICRC spokesman Jason Straziuso in an email, referring to Russian ally Belarus. “In the view of the ICRC, civilians affected by the hostilities should be given broader relocation alternatives, including within Ukraine itself.”

NEW YORK — Russia has admitted that conscript soldiers have been sent into Ukraine and that some have been captured by Ukrainian troops.

The admission comes after President Vladimir Putin vowed that conscripts would not be deployed and that Russian forces would rely on professional troops.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that “unfortunately there have been detected several instances of the presence of conscript-service military personnel” with units in Ukraine but that “almost all” of them had been recalled to Russia.

He added that some conscripts were taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces while serving in a logistics unit and efforts are under way to free them. Konashenkov didn’t specify how many conscripts had served in Ukraine or how many were captured.

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